Political polarization has become an increasing problem in the United States with Republicans and Democrats growing further apart on what they think the nation’s top priorities should be.
Even though a variety of studies have shown that diversity can be beneficial for companies, one would assume that politically diverse teams could create polarization in the workplace.
“Political differences in the workplace can create just as much tension as they can in entirely social settings, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Deborah Hall, Associate Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University’s School of Social and Behavioral Science, said. “Learning how to communicate differing beliefs and values in ways that are honest but simultaneously respectful of others’ views is a crucial skill… these conversations may be some of the most valuable for building effective teams.”
Public companies that are in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their industry means, according to a 2015 McKinsey report on 355 public companies.
In a research study, four academics studied the wisdom of polarized crowds to see how teams full of people with political differences can create collective knowledge products consumed by millions.
For the study, the researchers examined how the volunteer content creators at Wikipedia worked together to publish pages on divisive topics such as abortion, minimum wage laws or President Donald Trump with the question of “does political diversity increase or decrease their effectiveness in creating high quality, balanced treatments?”
They analyzed the team discussion on article “talk pages” where editors discuss and debate what should be included in an article and how it should be written.
“Analyzing the content of these discussions, we found that polarized teams engage in more debates but with less toxic conflict than ideologically unbalanced teams, where the efforts of lone, contrarian editors to “de-bias” articles sometimes provoked charged disputes,” they wrote in the Harvard Business Review.
Harvard Business Review also reports that diverse teams are smarter because they focus more on the facts, process facts more carefully and are more innovative.
According to Hall, with diverse groups “employers [need] to establish clear guidelines for maintaining a workplace in which differences are respected and communicated with civility,” which is seen in The Wisdom of Polarized Crowds study as they report that polarized groups at Wikipedia were more likely to stick to the guidelines.
“In a community or media environment without laws, or with weak or attenuated norms, the potential increases for that environment to turn toxic, with shorter conversations, less collaboration, leading to lower quality,” the study said.
“The findings are surprising. Political polarization is typically regarded as negative, but we reveal that if the power of diverse, polarized perspectives can be unleashed, it can positively influence quality productivity,” the study continued. “At the individual level, bias is generally undesirable. It leads to bad investments and wrong conclusions. But bias is sometimes driven by passion, which leads those we deem biased to work longer and harder for something they believe in.”
“The greatest benefit, however, is the improved communication skills of employees who work within environments with a diversity of beliefs. Employees who not only tolerate but genuinely respect their coworkers in spite or perhaps because of differing views will be more effective in just about every way,” Hall added.
To read the report, click here.